The title of this post is from a comment that David Blakenhorn left over at a short post on the First Things website. The post concerns the recent about-face that Jody Bottum has publicly proclaimed on the subject of so-called same-sex "marriage" (he's now for it). But as Mathew Franck so ably explained in his post, if you take the time to read through Bottum's essay*, all you come away with is the notion that Bottum is intellectually incoherent.
For example, Franck points out that Bottum says,
under any principle of governmental fairness available today, the equities are all on the side of same-sex marriage. There is no coherent jurisprudential argument against it—no principled legal view that can resist it.
But as Franck goes on to explain,
No one with the least comprehension of legal reasoning who has followed the actual jurisprudential arguments in the relevant cases could have written such lines. Bottum refers later to the “infamous ‘mystery passage’” in the 1992 Casey ruling, and he seems to know what nonsense it was. But since it is actually the best constitutional argument for a right of same-sex marriage—and it fails entirely to be an argument—what then are we to make of his bold pronouncements on what is and is not a “coherent jurisprudential argument”?
I could point to my own favorite example, which happens to dovetail nicely with one of the central concerns of a former blogger here at "What's Wrong" -- how natural law arguments are used (or are failed to be used) in the wider culture. Bottum treats the issue as follows:
Where we’re going with all this is toward a claim that the thin notions of natural law deployed against same-sex marriage in recent times are unpersuasive, and, what’s more, they deserve to be unpersuasive—for their thinness reflects their lack of rich truth about the spiritual meanings present in this created world...
...One understanding of the sexual revolution—the best, I think—is as an enormous turn against the meaningfulness of sex. Oh, I know, it was extolled by the revolutionaries as allowing real experimentation and exploration of sensation, but the actual effect was to disconnect sex from what previous eras had thought the deep stuff of life: God, birth, death, heaven, hell, the moral structures of the universe, and all the rest...
...Those consequences were, in essence, the stripping away of magic—the systematic elimination of metaphysical, spiritual, and mystical meanings. Science, Francis Bacon told us, could not advance in any other way. Real democracy, Diderot explained, would not arrive “until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” When the Supreme Court gave us the infamous “mystery passage” in the 1992 abortion case Planned Parenthood v. Casey—“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”—the justices were merely following out to its logical conclusion the great modern project of disenchantment. And it’s worth noticing that the mystery passage was quoted approvingly and relied upon in the 2003 sodomy-law case Lawrence v. Texas and by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2005 when it ordered the state to register same-sex marriages.
As a practical matter, the gay-rights lawyers were probably smart to take the mystery passage and run with it. You use what tools you’re given, even if they confirm your opponents’ inchoate sense that all social issues are somehow joined, abortion of a piece with same-sex marriage. But as a theoretical matter, I’m less convinced. What kind of moral or social victory do you obtain if the marriage you’re granted is defined as nothing more than a way in which individuals define the concept of their own existence? Marriage seemed one of the last places left where Weber’s “great enchanted garden” of traditional societies could still be found...
THIS POINTS US toward the general problem with arguments that rely on natural law—natural law, that is, in the modern sense, as developed most notably by the philosophers John Finnis and Germain Grisez, and explicated for political application by Robby George and many subsequent conservative writers. As deployed in our current debates, this kind of thing has always seemed to me a scientized, mainline-Protestantized version of the thicker natural law of the medievals: natural law as awkwardly yoked to the “elective affinities” of modernity.
On point here is Russell Hittinger’s critique of “new natural law” as an attempt to have a theology-free version of a rational philosophy that depended, by its original internal consistency, on premises of God, creation, and Aristotelian natural forms. Natural law was always a little theologically thin. It derived from a rich understanding of the world, yes, but it was something like the least common denominator of spiritual views: a “mere metaphysics” (to misapply a concept of C. S. Lewis’s). And it worked well enough as a philosophy in a time when people generally agreed that the world was enchanted, however vehemently they disagreed about the specifics of that enchantment. Natural law broke spirituality down to its most basic shared components and then built a rationally defensible ethics up again from that foundation.
Paging Professor Feser, clean up in aisle one! But more seriously, I hope readers can see even in these abbreviated passages the central paradox in Bottum's confused writings -- he wants the wider culture to adopt a more serious, richer metaphysical natural law so that those of us defending traditional marriage (and related concepts like chastity, making divorce rare, etc.) will be able to get through to the culture -- but his plan to do so is to abandon the fight for what marriage really means until...until we teach everyone basic metaphysics? Teleology 101? Buy every high school senior in America The Last Superstition? No, his recommendation for how we teach the masses natural law is "massive investments in charity, the further evangelizing of Asia, a willingness to face martyrdom by preaching in countries where Christians are killed simply because they are Christians, and a church-wide effort to reinvigorate the beauty and the solemnity of the liturgy." Chinese missionaries and the true nature of marriage -- go together like a horse and carriage!
Anyway, all of this is good fun and brings me back to Blankenhorn's ridiculous comment: remember, this is the guy who also abandoned the fight to defend traditional marriage because he came to believe in the "equal dignity of homosexual love". Was he enjoying afternoon tea in the company with Anthony Kennedy before he wrote his silly NYT editorial? And he also came to believe in "basic fairness" (as if changing the definition of 2+2 = 4 is somehow related to fairness), but whatever David, keep telling yourself that you also believe:
Marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children. At the level of first principles, gay marriage effaces that gift. No same-sex couple, married or not, can ever under any circumstances combine biological, social and legal parenthood into one bond.
In case you didn't notice, just like your new buddy Jody Bottum, you are as intellectually incoherent as Mathew Franck pointed out Mr. Bottum was and as many of your critics pointed out the same back when you wrote your execrable article. As another one of the First Things commenters says regarding Bottum's article,
My first reaction to this news is heavy sadness. My second is to hope that Mr. Bottum’s friends will come to his aid; that they will supply him with the many scholarly, elegantly reasoned articles written in support of marriage and its necessity for the protection of children’s human rights (Douglas Farrow’s immediately comes to mind) that will help him to see his error; that he will be encouraged and strengthened by that counsel and by the Holy Spirit to see his error. It is not too late, never too late, to see the truth.
(*I don't recommend our readers undertake the endeavor, unless they have a strong appetite for confusing and incoherent prose -- one of the other commenters at First Things amusingly says, "Wow. After three attempts, I still could not finish it. Never mind the weakness of the argumentation, the article is a wonderful example of poor writing from someone whose writing I once thought good. The shame of the thesis is magnified by the lack of any clear thesis. It is like the Sunday afternoon rides we would take in the car. My father would take off behind the wheel and none of knew where we would end up. Sadly, it is a whole lot less interesting.")
UPDATE: After name-checking the wonderful Professor Ed Feser, unbeknownst to me, he was in the process of writing his own response to Bottum's piece which you all can read here. I recommend reading the whole thing, but just to give you all a taste, here is Feser's famous acerbic wit in full bloom:
Bottum’s third reason also involves capitulation, this time to secular culture. He opines that:
Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about.
He adds that the clergy sex scandals have undermined the Church’s moral authority on matters of sex anyway. Perhaps Bottum would also have advised the early Christians to just lighten up and offer a little incense to Caesar -- the young people, after all, couldn’t see what the big deal was, and anyway all that martyrdom stuff was just making Christians look like fanatics. Perhaps he would have told Athanasius to knock it off already with the Trinitarianism, since it was just alienating the smart set. Besides, most of the bishops had caved in to Arianism, so that the Church lacked any moral authority on the subject. And maybe Bottum would have advised the Christian warriors at Spain, Vienna, and Lepanto to get real and learn to accept a Muslim Europe. After all, these various desperate Catholic efforts were, as history shows, a waste of time -- the Roman persecutors, Arians, and invading Muslims all won out in the end, right?
But to be fair, those analogies aren’t quite right. A better analogy would be Bottum suggesting that a little emperor worship might actually serve the cause of monotheism; or that giving Arianism free reign might advance recognition of the divinity of Christ; or that submitting to dhimmitude might be a good way of restoring Christendom. For here is what Joseph Bottum, prophet of a re-enchanted reality and rebuilder of Aquinas’s natural law, sees, if only murkily, in his crystal ball:
In fact, same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in chastity in a culture that has lost much sense of chastity. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in love in a civilization that no longer seems to know what love is for. Same-sex marriage might prove a small advance in the coherence of family life in a society in which the family is dissolving.
I don’t know that it will, of course…
No, of course the level-headed Bottum wouldn’t claim to know that it will. Just like we couldn’t, you know, have been absolutely sure at the time that offering incense to the emperor might somehow undermine idolatry, or that denying Christ’s divinity would lead people to embrace His divinity, or that ceding lands to the Jihad would lead to new church construction therein. Hey, it’s all a crap shoot, but we can hope!